Saturday, October 24, 2020

XFINITY: Timmy Hill sets up LASTCAR battle with Stephen Leicht; Brown, Vargas, Martins, and Currey enjoy career-best runs

PHOTO: Chris Graythen, Getty Images

Timmy Hill picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at the Texas Motor Speedway when his #13 RoofClaim.com Toyota fell out with engine issues after 6 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Hill’s 212th series start, was his third of the season and first since Richmond, six races ago. In the XFINITY Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 9th for the #13, the 144th for Toyota, and the 265th for engine woes. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 34th for the #13, the 350th for Toyota, and the 1,095th from an engine.

It had been an eventful week for Hill, who on Friday announced that his wife Lucy is expecting a baby boy in March of next year. He’d then head to Texas, scene of his iRacing Pro Invitational Series win over William Byron on March 29. Preorders of the 1:24-scale version of the RoofClaim.com #66 had just been sent out to buyers this same week. RoofClaim.com would sponsor Hill for his double-duty effort in Fort Worth, both on his #66 Cup car and #13 XFINITY entry from Motorsports Business Management. Since his last-place run at Richmond, he’d finished 19th or better in three of those five starts with a best of 14th at Talladega.

On top of this, Hill was also one of six drivers still mathematically in contention for the 2020 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship if they finished last in all three of the remaining races this year. The others were fellow two-time last-place finishers Kody Vanderwal, Joe Graf, Jr., Brandon Jones, Michael Annett, and Kyle Weatherman. Hill rolled off 25th on Saturday.

Weatherman rolled off 36th and last in Mike Harmon Racing’s #47 FWPDA Chevrolet. While two teams twice failed pre-race inspection, neither 11th-place Brett Moffitt in the #02 Golden Fox Footwear Chevrolet nor 16th-place Jeremy Clements in the #51 Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet Chevrolet were sent to the rear after both passed a third time. Both will, however, lose their pit stall selection for next Saturday’s Martinsville event. Just before the start, one driver did drop to the rear – 32nd-place Jesse Iwuji, whose #99 Notable Live Chevrolet was sponsored by Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith.

When the race started, Weatherman pulled ahead of Iwuji, who by Lap 3 was 1.077 seconds back of new 35th-place driver Kody Vanderwal in the #52 A-1 Performance Warehouse Chevrolet. Vanderwal was himself losing touch with the rest of the field, and on Lap 5 trailed the #78 Surface Wise / Sci Aps Toyota 35th-place C.J. McLaughlin by 2.386 seconds. Timmy Hill abruptly entered the last-place picture on Lap 8, when he took over last from Iwuji and promptly went a lap down. The #13 went behind the wall, the crew saying they were “not sure what we’re gonna do.” A broken crankshaft was the issue, and NASCAR confirmed him as the first car out on Lap 33.

With the finish, the 2020 LASTCAR XFINITY Series Championship will come down to Hill and Stephen Leicht. Hill’s only path to the title is to finish last in both the season’s final rounds at Martinsville and Phoenix. If Hill does not finish last next Saturday, Leicht will take the title, even if he doesn’t start any more races this season.

Taking 35th was David Starr, whose #07 Chasco / Steely Lumber Chevrolet lost an engine after 40 laps, pulling to the apron after his car erupted with white smoke off Turn 2. Chad Finchum, driving in place of Leicht, took 34th with fuel pump issues on the #66 Garrison Homes Toyota, followed by Austin Hill in the MBM / Hattori effort. Austin Hill had been advised at least twice by NASCAR that one of his rear tires was rubbing. One tire blew, forcing him to pit road, and he ultimately dropped out with suspension issues on the #61 AISIN Group Toyota. Rounding out the group was Riley Herbst, whose #18 Monster Energy Toyota nosed into the inside wall down the backstretch.

Overshadowed by the last-lap pass Harrison Burton pulled on Noah Gragson were several stunning performances by the series’ underdogs.

Just weeks after he was eliminated from Playoff contention when he was forced off into a muddy puddle on the Charlotte “Roval,” Brandon Brown scored the first top-five finish of his career, taking 5th in his #68 Jabs Construction Chevrolet. The finish came in his 84th series start and improved on his career-best 6th in the July 2019 race at Daytona. Brown had been in and around the Top 10 for most of the race, and in the final laps held off the high-powered JR Motorsports entry of Michael Annett by 0.226 of a second.

Taking 8th in only his 10th series start was 19-year-old Ryan Vargas, whose growing fan base gained even more attention when the TikTok app joined him as sponsor of Johnny Davis’ #6 Chevrolet back at Talladega. This was also the best finish of the year for JD Motorsports’ #6 team, whose previous best was an 11th by B.J. McLeod in the June race at Bristol. Vargas reached the 9th spot by six laps to go in Saturday’s race, then on the final lap caught and passed Josh Williams’ #92 Allow Employer Services Chevrolet, edging him for the spot by 0.065 of a second. Williams’ 9th-place finish continues a strong late-season charge for he and the DGM team. It’s his third top-ten finish in the last four races, leaving out only a 34th on the “Roval,” where he also ran strong for the first 36 laps before a crash.

Tommy Joe Martins has endured every possible misfortune in his continuing fight to develop his owner-driver operation Martins Motorsports, first in Trucks and now in XFINITY. It was at this same Texas track in the summer that the #44 Chevrolet began to improve, taking a 15th-place finish to match their run at Talladega. He ran 13th on the Daytona infield road course, and 14th just last week in Kansas. On Saturday, Martins moved up to 11th on Lap 62, held 14th at the end of Stage 2, and reached as high as 8th on Lap 179. With three laps to go, he passed Alex Labbe for the 10th spot and was pulling away from him all the way to the checkered flag, the final gap at 2.701 seconds. The result is Martins’ first top-ten finish in 87 series starts, improving on his breakout 11th-place run at Iowa in 2017.

Further back, Bayley Currey took 8th in Stage 1, continuing to build on Mike Harmon Racing’s breakout season in the #74 Hull Supply Chevrolet. After an up-and-down day that saw him fall off the lead lap, then out of the Top 20, Currey charged back near the finish, taking 12th, just 0.542 of a second from passing Labbe for 11th on the final lap. This was Currey’s career-best XFINITY finish – the third time he’s accomplished this in 2020 alone. His previous marks were an 18th at both Charlotte and Atlanta, then a 14th on the Daytona infield road course.

Both Currey and Martins were nearly collected in one of the day’s biggest accidents triggered by Justin Allgaier, Ross Chastain, and Brandon Jones – Currey ran the apron while Martins nearly stopped in the middle lane. Jeremy Clements, who had been running in the Top 15 for much of the day, nearly made it through as well before Jones hooked Allgaier into his path, knocking Clements’ #51 out of the race in 27th.

LASTCAR STATISTICS
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #13 in an XFINITY Series race at Texas since November 4, 2017, when John Jackson’s turn for MBM in the #13 OCR Gaz Bar Dodge ended after 7 laps with fuel pressure issues during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.

THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #13-Timmy Hill / 6 laps / engine
35) #07-David Starr / 40 laps / engine 
34) #66-Chad Finchum / 55 laps / fuel pump
33) #61-Austin Hill / 107 laps / suspension
32) #18-Riley Herbst / 132 laps / crash

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Motorsports Business Management (9)
2nd) JR Motorsports (4)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Mike Harmon Racing (3)
4th) JD Motorsports, Jimmy Means Racing, Shepherd Racing Ventures, SS-Green Light Racing (2)
5th) B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Jeremy Clements Racing, Kaulig Racing, Our Motorsports (1)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (19)
2nd) Toyota (12)

2020 LASTCAR XFINITY SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP

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